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Total number of comments: 173 (since 2013-11-28 14:42:46)

Richard

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  • Iran Proposes Axis against ISIL to Iraqi PM Abadi as alternative to US Coalition
    • I have to admit, my head is spinning from the bewildering machinations of the Middle East. This proposed Shitte coalition is fine by me. More of a recognition of an existing, if fragile, alliance than anything else.
      link to nytimes.com

      Speaking of fragile alliances, today Erdogan is criticizing the U.S. airdrop to Kobane because a palette may have found its way to ISIS. He says the U.S. has aided ISIS. Kinda funny. On reflection, a predictable cheap shot given the international criticism he's under.

      With friends like Pakistan and Turkey, who needs enemies?

  • Defying Turkey, US airdrops arms to Kobane Kurds
    • The pentagon reported that one of the palettes fell into ISIS control. The video showing the box of grenades may have been taken before air strikes bombed the landing area.

    • You call Barzani a tribal leader. Can you really blame him for placating Turkey given the pressures the Iraqi Kurds are under? Is Barzzani also wrong for selling oil to Israel? The fact that his nationalist instincts are limited is a good thing. Nationalism - meaning a Kurdish state - will have to wait for democracy to arrive in entire region. That's just reality, Kurds are not going to be able to fight their way to a state carved out of 4 countries, including 2 regional powers. Barzani's effective pragmatism is a breath of fresh air.

      Someday Kurds in autonomous regions of Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey can decide on independence the same way that people of Quebec and Scotland did. Deliberately, peacefully. And if true democracy and human rights are present, don't be surprised if they decide the same way the Quebecers and Scots did.

      You are reading the signals wrong. Barzani and the more leftist Kurds are not dividing, they are finding common ground. That cooperation challenges Erdogan more than any PKK insurgency possibly could.

    • The airdrop is certainly a one finger salute to Turkey. But overall, I'm seeing reconciliation and convergence of interests. The Kurds in Syria, Turkey and Iraq are starting to work together. Iraqi Kurdistan is emerging as the useful middleman between U.S., PKK and Turkey. The Syrian Kurds are finding common ground with Turkey's FSA proxies. Now we see Turkey allowing Iraqi Peshmerga into Kobane.

      I think the gemütlichkeit all started when Kurdistan in Iraq, the PKK in Turkey and PYG in Syria all cooperated to create a humanitarian corridor to save the Yazidis trapped on Mt. Sinjar.

      There has been a tidal wave of good news the past three days.

  • Kobane Kurds fight off ISIL Assault, as Shells land in Turkey
    • Two very big developments:

      U.S. is airdropping arms and medicine to Kobane
      link to bbc.com
      Turkey will be furious, but frankly the fall of Kobane would have led to civil war in Turkey. Turkey is being saved from its own worst instincts.

      There are tentative signs of reconciliation between Arab and Kurdish resistance groups in Syria. They may find a way to cooperatively oppose both Assad and ISIS.
      link to rudaw.net

  • Turkey bargaining with base for US, wants no-fly zone in Syria
    • Erdogan wants that buffer zone as a container for refugees - push more of the burden on international community.

      Equally important, the zone will put the anti-ISIS coalition in direct conflict with Assad, end any pretense of cooperation with Assad. That territory will serve as a sanctuary for Turkey's flavor of the Free Syrian Army.

      I've read some suggestions that the buffer zone will provide a means for Turkey to check Kurdish independence in Northern Syria. I'm not sure how that would work, but the Kurds are fiercely opposed to the buffer zone, so they must think this is credible possibility.

  • The Last Days of Kobani Loom as ISIL Closes in on Syrian Kurds with Murder on its Mind
    • Here is an interesting take on aspirations of Kurdish Syria (Rojava):
      link to theguardian.com

      "The PKK has declared that it no longer even seeks to create a Kurdish state. Instead, inspired in part by the vision of social ecologist and anarchist Murray Bookchin, it has adopted the vision of “libertarian municipalism”, calling for Kurds to create free, self-governing communities, based on principles of direct democracy, that would then come together across national borders – that it is hoped would over time become increasingly meaningless. "

      The author sees a direct parallel with the Spanish Civil War, where leftists were largely abandoned by the world in their struggle with the fascists of their era.

    • Make nice with Assad? Where does that lead? Do you really think that the Alawite sect can rule the Sunni majority of Syria indefinitely? That way lies endless internal war, cruelty and suffering. The Sunni uprising is not going away even if Assad gets more nominal control.

      What is needed is some sort of balance of power among Syrian factions that leads to negotiated resolution. Very tricky. "Hellish" might be better word. Challenge is not as simple as overthrowing Assad, or allowing Assad to regain control of whole country.

    • I've been tormented by this Kobane situation, with the Turks watching a city needlessly fall to ISIS. But it has caused me to study the Turkish position and understand their point of view.

      How can the world call the Turks inhumane for not intervening on the ground, when so few have lifted a finger to stop Assad's slaughter of so many Sunni Arabs? The PKK Kurds in Syria are unwilling to fight Assad, in fact may have cut deals with him. Why should Turkey bail them out?

      I think the U.S. will grudgingly come around to accepting Turkey's terms: a safe zone in northern Syria, which will put pressure on Assad among other outcomes. There may be movement on that front, at least as reported by Turkish press:
      link to hurriyetdailynews.com

      I am a passionate advocate for Kurdish cause. But the more you learn about the Kurds, the more you see them as tragically divided and disfunctional. They need to get their own house in order.

      Turkey watching Kobane fall reminds me of the old story about the scorpion and the frog in the Middle East. I don't see Kobane's fall to ISIS working in Turkey's interests given the blowback internationally and domestically.

  • 7 Surprising Reasons Turkey is entering war on ISIL
    • The author is a Middle East scholar who's obviously aware that Turkey is not Arab. It was an editing mistake. Buck-up and read on.

    • A Turkish columnist wrote a very moving Op-Ed arguing Turkey "must abandon its nationalist legacy and reimagine itself as a joint Turkish-Kurdish entity .... it is a mistake to assume that a weakened Kurdish presence means a stronger Turkey or that Turkey’s own peace process is disconnected from the fate of Kurds outside our borders."
      link to nytimes.com

      Most analysts are sounding a skeptical note about possibility of Turkish-Kurdish cooperation. All is uncertain and murky.

    • Another No Fly Zone mystery is why the U.S. is unenthusiastic about it.

      I think U.S. misgivings about the Free Syrian Army are not that they are hopelessly weak, as Juan and many others keep reporting. I think the fear is much more that they will become too powerful and too Islamic too quickly if they have significant outside support. The U.S. and Turkey are at odds on the FSA. The U.S. is on a very deliberate go-slow track. Assad would quickly lose the northern half of the country if a NFZ is implemented, even in a narrow band.

      Most sensible people want to see some balance of power that leads to a negotiated settlement. Getting there is tricky, and everybody sees that proper balance differently.

    • All 7 points certainly make sense. But they give no insight into the fundamental unknown: does Turkey intend to fight ISIL, or just posture publicly while continuing to play a double game? If we look at deeds not word, it's not encouraging.

      I've seen reports that Turkey continues to treat wounded ISIS fighters in their hospitals, then releases them.

  • Iraq: Shiites Paralyzed by infighting as ISIL menaces Baghdad
    • Baghdad is now Iran's problem.

      A Sunni force needs to be organized largely independent of the central government. The U.S. government isn't accepting reality.

  • What Arab partners will get in return for strikes on Syria
    • Most of this analysis sounds plausible.

      I do think the conclusion that authoritarian states will expect payback for their contribution is gratuitous cold water thrown on the coalition. Obama can not resolve all the problems of the Middle East in one master stroke. A tactical partnership with Sunni states is certainly a positive development. In the long run, Iran's interests will also have to be accounted for in a negotiated resolution, and that is no endorsement of Iran's authoritarian government.

  • Syrian Media Hail America as Damascus Ally, Support UN Ban on Foreign Fighters
    • Assad allowed ISIS to flourish, he has trained his barrel bombs on the FSA. Assad has positioned the Islamist extremists as the only alternative to his rule. Some have swallowed this propaganda, especially those most opposed to any western intervention.

      Assad was buying oil and electricity from ISIS, they had tactical alliance.
      Too long of a story to go into.

    • It is Assad that brought us ISIS. The notion that an Alawite leader is going to brutally rule the Sunni majority into the future is impossible. That genie is out of the bottle.

      The Sunni world is not going to cede the fight to Iran. You have proposed a recipe for endless terrorism and conflict.

    • "Let the Syrians worry about Assad" sounds very appealing. Unfortunately, it is Russia, Iran and Hezzbollah that keep the brutal police state in power.

      The war there has generated 10 million refuges internally and externally. This mess is not the product of western intervention. The theory that the world can stand aside and hope for the best has been tested for three years. Some balance of power must be achieved that favors a stable, negotiated resolution. The outcomes are not limited to the horror of Assad or ISIS take all.

    • The Syrian Press really needs to put the corks back in those champagne bottles. (Does the Alawite sect share the same aversion to alcohol as the larger Muslim world?)

      Obama did not build this Sunni Arab coalition around a strategy of re-enforcing Assad's domination. Making judgments about the trajectory of a five year project during the first week is pretty silly.

      Dr. Cole and many other experts have mocked the potential of the Free Syrian Army. I believe this perspective could not be more wrong. There is no ceiling on how effective the FSA can become with proper resourcing. As ISIS proved in Syria, nothing succeeds like success.

      The problem with the FSA is not that they will remain forever weak and disorganized, but that they could become too powerful too quickly. A slaughter in Damascus is hardly a desirable outcome. Dr. Joshua Landis expressed such a view in a PBS discussion this week. In the past, the U.S. has largely been engaged in preventing the FSA, such as it is currently constituted, from winning. I believe Landis is spot on.
      Landis blog: link to joshualandis.com
      Discussion with Landis: link to pbs.org

      Turkey is calling for a no fly buffer zone along Syria's northern border. The obvious advantage for Turkey is a safe area to stem the flow of refugees into Turkey. But the NFZ would also create a solid toe-hold for the FSA. I expect that in time Turkey will be drawn into the coalition in support of that NFZ.

      Assad is not going to be left in power. But neither are the Alawite and Christian populations that he protects going to be overrun. The FSA will be strengthened to the point where a balance of power can lead to a negotiated resolution amenable to Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, the U.S. and most importantly the various ethnic groups of Syria. This doesn't sound impossible to me, in fact it looks inevitable. This is Lebanon all over again.

  • Shock & Awe In Syria: It never Works
    • The Syrian Army characterizes the FSA as hopeless? Well, I guess that settles it.

      Watch and learn.

    • One other point: if strategy here was to allow Assad to reclaim territory vacated by ISIS, Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni states would never have joined the coalition.

      The initial purpose of the trained Syrian Army rebels will be to assist air strikes as spotters.

      The funding for FSA will mostly come from Gulf States, as they commit to the FSA as opposed to ISIS or other radical groups.

    • "Shock & Awe In Syria: It never Works"

      Actually, shock & awe works remarkably well in the middle east. Forces are extremely vulnerable to air power in that terrain.

      Obviously it's a question of what "works" means. Since we're dealing with political problems, the military piece of puzzle is just the start.

      I don't think bombing will accomplish much until ground forces are in place. That will take years. If they are going to do some bombing now, how about relieving pressure on the besieged Kurdish city of Kobani.

    • Enabling Assad's army to retake control is an outcome favored by Rand Paul as well as hand-washers on the left. Letting the strong man render rough justice is always an attractive path of least resistance.

      Two years ago, ISIS truly was the JV team of Syria. They attracted membership and power by building on success. There is no legitimate reason why the Free Syrian Army can not consolidate and build momentum once they demonstrate gains.

      Dr. Cole and many other skeptics have listed 101 reasons why the Free Syrian Army is doomed. The arguments are not wrong, but they will be overwhelmed by persistence. The FSA has shown remarkable tenacity. They are wanting only for sufficient support.

      The FSA skeptics share one trait: they wish for such an approach to fail. We shall see where this marathon leads.

  • Iraq: Is al-Maliki Preparing to Make a Coup?
    • I hope that Al-Malaki's coup succeeds. It seems to be the only way that the U.S. will get past the notion of a strong central government in Iraq as the lynch pin of its policy.

      I don't blame Kerry and Obama for trying to create an inclusive central government. It is the best outcome. But we should not be wed to this condition, particularly in the short term.

      Hopefully in the long run, the three regions will be bound together in a voluntary federation. I am relieved that the U.S. is finally giving some direct help to Kurdistan. Malaki already has the resources to fend-off ISIS, including an Iranian fail safe.

  • The Cruel Jest of American "Humanitarian Aid" to Iraq
    • I am a great admirer of Dr. Cole, but your comments are spot-on s_mark.

      Point-scoring and grudge-holding clouds the difficult issues. We look to experts like Dr. Cole for better.

  • Why is Obama bombing Iraq, Really?
    • Why are you questioning Kurdish units and leadership?
      They lack weapons, even have shortages of gasoline to move around.
      You can't defend a 600 mile border with 20-year-old rifles just with high morale. They are mountain fighters, not a large traditional army.

    • When the U.S. left Iraq in 2011, Maliki promised to distribute $200M in arms to Kurdistan. Of course he withheld all arms as a bargaining chip. That chip is now largely in ISIS hands.

      Kurdistan has been in desperate financial situation since Malaki cut-off oil revenue sharing last February. The dispute is over Kurd's rights to sell oil directly. So far, Kurds have only puny revenues from direct sales.

      The notion that the U.S. is going to pressure Kurdistan to remain under Baghdad's thumb is idiotic Kabuki theater. The only sensible structure is a federation of equal regions, such as proposed by Biden/Gelb last decade. Malaki can remain emperor of Shiitestan.

      I'm becoming hopeful that reality is finally slapping U.S. policy makers up the side of the head. But we shall see.

  • Obama & Airstrikes to Protect Iraqi Kurds: 1991 Deja Vu all Over Again
    • No, it will not require an endless no-fly zone from the United States. The Kurds can develop their own defense, including a modest air force. We already trained some pilots.

      I've been arguing for a couple months that Kurdistan is poorly armed and in desperate straits financially. One esteemed analyst said that the Peshmerga would make mincemeat out of ISIS in any encounter. I'm sickened to see ISIS success, but heartened that the true state of affairs is now broadly understood.

      Kurdistan can be built up, they have a highly functional society.

  • Americans need to Answer: When Will Palestinians get their Fourth of July?
    • You're right Mark, ethnic cleansing is nothing like a majority position in Israel.
      Your earlier point that the majority in Israel don't support Palestinian citizenship in a bi-national state is also true. But that stance can change.

      Palestinians can gain citizenship by switching to a strategy of sustained peaceful protest. Emphasis on peaceful - throwing rocks leads nowhere, in fact any violence just plays into narrative of the Israeli right.

      Israel can not resist peaceful protest demanding voting rights.

      I hope the Palestinians can rally behind such a strategy some decade soon.

    • Spyguy, you're right that Israel won't forcibly evict 500,000 settlers. But beyond that, none of your scenarios make any sense.

      The settler air force is funny idea. Israel is not going to fight "the Arabs" to the death. Jews are not going to emigrate.

    • Ethnic cleansing is not a realistic possibility. Sure, that has always been and will forever be the position of some on far right.

      I see no evidence that Netanyahu expects Palestinians to emigrate.

      What the right is doing in the West Bank is simply squeezing and containing the Palestinian population. Really, isn't it obvious? I suspect their long term strategy is a "2 state solution" that confines Palestinians to disconnected, fragmented homelands. The strategy is working and continues apace.

      Many Palestinians have figured out that the "2 state solution" is a dead end. Many op-ed pieces have appeared the past 5 years by Palestinians suggesting Israeli citizenship as the best way forward. The sooner the "2 state solution" fantasy/diversion dies, the sooner Israel will be forced to deal with the political and human rights of Palestinians.

      Israel can absorb the West Bank and still have a Jewish majority state.

      BTW, do you read stories of the 20% Arab population in Israel wanting to emigrate to Jordan or Lebanon or Syria or Egypt? Neither do I.

      Ideally, the Palestinians would have the West Bank for their independent state. The 20% Jewish population there can just make do like the 20% Arab population manages in Israel. This would be the most justice outcome, but there is no mechanism for it to happen. It won't happen.

      I heard Shimon Peres on Charlie Rose last week. He is adamantly opposed to a one state solution. He offers the happy divorce of the Czechs and Slovaks as a useful model. Perez is a man of the 20th century. It will take a future generation to accept that the integration of Jews and Palestinians is the only remaining moral path forward. Full democracy in South Africa was also unthinkable not so long ago.

    • You have to look 30 years ahead. What looks impossible today will someday seem inevitable.

      Israel is on a trajectory to be the 21st century apartheid state, even to its friends and supporters. For a variety of reasons, I do not consider Israel today the moral equivalent of South Africa, but that is where they are headed. Israel will resolve the question of the rights of Palestinians, there is no other way.

      You might be surprised that a considerable faction on the right in Israel is seriously discussing the annexation of the West Bank, and the granting of citizenship to all residents. You'll have to endure a lot of anti-Obama, right wing crud, but this talk is instructive:
      link to c-span.org
      Caroline Glick author of “The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East “

      The thinking here is that the Jewish birth rate is actually higher than the Palestinian rate, despite reports to contrary. The demographic time bomb is a dud. Of course the plan is to leave Gaza alone, not sure if that could work out.

    • Camp David established a framework to negotiate a final status for West Bank & Gaza. PLO didn't participate because, among other reasons, a right of return wasn't guaranteed up front. The UN General Assembly backed the PLO.

      I believe this was a terrible blunder, a lost opportunity. The Palestinians could have had their state based on 1967 borders.

      So then we fast forward to Oslo era. I believe Israel made a good faith offer, but maybe issues like water rights kept it from being acceptable to Palestinians. It was a messy deal, but oh so close. There was blame and stupidity from rejectionists on both sides for blowing up opportunity, launching hostilities.

      Now there are half a million jews scattered across the West Bank. Interesting that the Jewish population percentage in West Bank is about the same as the Arab Population percentage in Israel.

      I'm afraid the two state approach is done. The "facts on the ground" are now too much to unwind. Palestinians will have a much better future as part of Israel. In the United States, Native Americans have dual citizenship in the U.S. as well as their particular Indian nation. Maybe something like that could work out.

    • What would the outcome be of the Palestinians declaring themselves a state? What would the borders be of that state?

      This would just be a feel-good fantasy, and it wouldn't put any pressure on Israel.

      Without cooperation with Israel, this isolated, disjointed, nominal state will be impoverished.

      The only practical way forward is for Israel and the Palestinian people to be closely integrated economically, regardless of the political arrangements.

    • It is necessary to keep the grievances of Palestinians in the public conscience. But this is just the easy work.

      I'm most interested in suggestions for what can be done to change the situation. I'm not expecting a plan of action for today, but a long term vision would be nice.

      I give up on a 2-state solution. The writing is on the wall: the patchwork "state" that is possible in the west bank now is a terrible deal for Palestinians, and that offer will get worse.

      I believe Palestinians should shift their focus to becoming loyal citizens of a bi-national state of Israel. That transition will of course involve a monumental shift of attitudes. But a number Palestinians are already there.

      You got any better ideas?

  • Syrian Opposition: Baghdadi "Caliphate" lame attempt to take Spotlight off his Crime Spree
    • I watched Emile Hokayem, author of "Syria’s Uprising and the Fracturing of the Levant", speak about situation in Syria (also Iraq.) He thinks the declaration of the caliphate will backfire greatly against ISIS, bad PR move. This is an excellent talk, highly recommended.
      link to c-span.org

      Another interesting point he made: the nature of Syrian conflict as proxy war is overblown by outsiders looking for facile shorthand. Much more important are the very complex local conflicts. He sees the war in Syria (also Iraq I presume) going on for very long time, like Lebanon civil war. The local actors have their support networks in place to continue indefinitely.

  • Uneasy Caliphate: Inside Hawija in Iraq
    • A couple economic nuggets from link to blogs.cfr.org

      "Last Sunday, one gasoline line in Erbil stretched for two miles. Even though the Kurds have refineries in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, they remain dependent on the much larger Iraqi refinery in Baji, which has (or has not) fallen to ISIS and its allies. A number of years ago there was a lot of breathless commentary about how the Turks were building Kurdistan. The Turks are in the Kurdish areas in large numbers, but the construction boom—which is their specialty—seems to have ground to a halt."

    • Thanks for this great inside view of life in Hawija!

      It does seem like Hawija and Kirkuk are destined to be at war for years to come.

      I read somewhere that the economy in Kirkuk has largely collapsed because the shops depended so much on Arab Sunni customers from Hawija and elsewhere.

      I've been beating the drums against all the happy talk about Kurdistan, and in particular Kirkuk. The Kirkuk pipeline to Turkey runs through a lot of territory with Sunni Arab inhabitants. The Kurds have a long way to go before they can export enough oil to be self sufficient. Kurdistan has really hurting economically since Maliki cut oil wealth sharing. The U.S. is imposing an arms embargo on Kurdistan.

      Here is one more excellent analysis of the reality Kurdistan faces:
      link to blogs.cfr.org

  • The Debacle of the Caliphates: Why al-Baghdadi's Grandiosity doesn't Matter
  • Hyenas vs. Rhinos: Who could the NYT get to write an Op-ed on Iraq? Hmm...
    • Come on, Juan Cole is top foreign affairs commentator of the left, and he had Iraq about right throughout. (Although I can't remember his thoughts on surge in late 2006, and his support of Libya intervention may disqualify him with anti-war purists.)

      Barry Posen is good:
      link to politico.com

      Can't think of politicians so articulate on Iraq, they have so many issues to keep up with. Barbara Boxer? Well, OK. Eleanor Holmes Norton impresses me.

      Hey, Al Gore called Iraq the great foreign policy disaster in history. He's rested and ready.

  • Barzani: Kurdish Rule To Stay In Kirkuk
    • I think we don't know. The Peshmerga have been unable to move ISIS out of towns in Diyala. (They are majority Kurd small cities with significant Sunni neighborhoods. ) The Kurds have a 1000 mile perimeter to defend. They have limited heavy weaponry.

      I hope you are right. ISIS also has a lot on their plate. But I take analysis in above link seriously.

      Report from Christian town near Mosul, Qara qosh, is harrowing
      link to news.vice.com

      Peshmerga is under stress.

    • The Kurds can say they are staying in Kirkuk all they want. The fact is they don't have the weaponry to resist an attack by ISIS. Also, as the Shiites in Baghdad ramp-up air power, along with Iranian drones, I doubt Kurds are a match for Iraqi central government in non-mountainous territory.

      link to sunherald.com

      Perhaps Kurdistan will get more support, situation is uncertain.

  • Top 5 Reasons US Aid to "Moderate" Syrian Fighters is Quixotic
    • The Obama Administration has mostly provided non-lethal aid. They announced some small arms a while ago, but reporters in Aleppo said they saw little change on front lines.

      As Juan correctly pointed out, $500M is a small amount compared to the challenge. Previous aid has been at tens of millions level, arms and nonlethal combined. You can't argue that the trickle of arms the FSA receives is a substantial intervention, even though the U.S. CIA and Special Forces are working with Turkey and Jordan.

      I think the main role U.S. has played has been an unsuccessful attempt to steer Saudi and Qatari money away from ISIS.

      The fact is that ISIS has flourished under current policy. This does not prove a remedy, but it certainly invalidates the "blowback" argument. ISIS already has an excess of small arms and munitions.

    • "Pacifist" is not a pejorative. Today I heard Jesse Ventura say he wanted a constitutional amendment barring U.S. troops from acting 500 miles outside borders. I do not agree with isolationists, but intervention has hardly been fruitful overall.

      Arming and air support for Croatians and Bosniacs in 1990s proved to be a humanitarian success, albeit messy.

      Hezbollah, Iran, Assad, Russia have been successful from the standpoint of their goals, which I do not support

    • You presented an argument that could be applied to arming any side in any conflict, and now double-down on it, claiming no example of a successful outcome in interventions. This is a pacifist stance - why do you consider "pacifist" an epithet?

      As an example where arming a side has succeeded, I give you Iran and Hezbollah proxy in Syria. From Iran's perspective, "Great Success!", to quote Borat. Russia is also quite happy with result of arming Assad - no regrets, client regime has been stabilized.

      And as to your implication that the U.S. has dramatically intervened in Syria, I can't fix that false perception.

    • No JTM, in regards to the Syrian rebellion, we have followed a hands-off policy. Every situation has a unique set of circumstances. Syria is not Iraq or Libya or Mali or Yemen.

      But I hear your point of view. You are arguing for a pacifist policy, you are against arming foreign groups.

    • Sure, some weapons intended for the Free Syrian Army will find their way to fundamentalists. (Although not stinger missiles, that idea is not on table.) Question is whether this downside is justified by advantages. ISIS is already very well armed in the absence of significant military support of the FSA. The FSA is barely capable of holding a portion of Aleppo, while ISIS comfortably controls western Syria, including its oil and other energy resources. (Assad is buying electricity from ISIS!)

      Opponents of arming moderates need to honestly acknowledge the evidence: the west has provided very little weaponry to moderate insurgents for three years. Your approach has been tested. Is the outcome good?

    • The argument that some of the weapons and training that the U.S. might interject will find their way to ISIS and have a net negative impact ignores facts on ground. ISIS is not wanting for weapons or training; the more moderate factions are starved for resources. Even if 25% of resources were to slip to ISIS (a pessimistic scenario) the overall effect would be to strengthen the moderate factions vis-a-vis ISIS.

      ISIS and the Free Syria Army both likely acquired the bulk of their weaponry and training from Assad's military through captures and defections. Are those transfers arguments for Assad to disarm his army?

      As to identifying moderates, well, for better or worse this task is getting easier. The Sunni-dominated factions competing with ISIS for control of Aleppo will suffice as “moderates.” The forces being organized from scratch in Jordan will also do.

      I know some of the people we arm will be ISIS infiltrators. I also have no answer for Juan's point that “moderates” will be involved in war crimes. We're choosing best available option.

      The assertion that 500M is too little is undoubtedly true, but it doesn't argue for doing nothing. I don't see the need to build a force that can defeat ISIS or rival it for resources. The goal is to build a credible political and military force which does not have an agenda of international terrorism. If they can hold some territory, pay their soldiers, they are a viable option waiting for opportunity. ISIS seems set for major rollbacks. Perhaps a more moderate alternative will look like the winning horse to Sunni backers some day.

      I'm sure that Dr. Cole's essay will be popular, staying out of an ugly mess is appealing. I see no useful role for U.S. in Iraq, other than strengthening Kurdistan. In Syria, I see some modest benefit to funding an alternative to Assad and ISIS.

  • Iraq's PM al-Maliki Rejects Gov't of Nat'l Unity as Sunnis Demand he step Down
    • Redux, I agree that trying to accommodate the rebellious Sunni is distasteful, but what is your vision? It sounds like you want the U.S. to jump on the Maliki/Iran bandwagon, see the Sunni crushed and dominated.

      I see nothing but endless warfare and ethnic cleansing in your approach, there will always be more fighters to enter on Sunni side.

    • A government of national unity would not hand all power to Sunnis & Kurds.

      Some Sunnnis clearly believe they can conquer entire country, not be trapped in new Gaza strip. They are probably wrong, but Shiite defenses have thus far been unimpressive.

  • Iraq in last Throes as Kurdistan Seeks Independence, Syria & Iran intervene
    • Kurdish independence is inevitable. Priority today is survival. Kurdistan needs foreign aid to bolster its defenses. They should maneuver politically in whatever way garners that aid.

      A lot of the larger media outlets have been publishing big-picture stories about Kurdistan, how they are the big winners with their acquisition of Kirkuk, and how the Peshmerga are brave, fierce, unbeatable, cheerful, loyal and thrifty.

      I've scoured the internet news for more detail the past week, and the full picture is not so rosy. The Peshmerga may have excellent morale, but they are lightly armed compared to ISIS. There are shortages of everything from ammunition to petrol.

      The Peshmerga have a 600 KM perimeter to defend, no aircraft to speak of to do surveillance. They are stretched very thin. I've seen no instance of the Peshmerga actually pushing ISIS out of any position, they've only occupied abandoned territory. Down south in Diyala, they've failed to clear town of Jalula after two weeks. ISIS is ever more dug-in in Sa'adia. These are Kurdish towns with strategic value.

      Peshmerga holds only a dangerously thin buffer south & west of Kirkuk. Lots of skirmishes close to city. There is a large, hostile Sunni population just west in Hawija.

      I see tonight that ISIS is getting aggressive near Mosul.
      link to aina.org

      I worry that ISIS is gaining strength, and will be able in time to focus superior firepower on key areas, like Kirkuk, or say the Syrian border area where the Peshmerga are overextended.

      Malaki stopped sharing oil revenues with Kurdistan back in February. The recent sales through Turkey help, but I read that it will take about two years for Kurds to restore lost revenue levels. They've had to layoff lots of government workers.

      This is a very vulnerable time for Kurdistan, and it could get worse soon. I hope some combination of Turkey, U.S. or Israel gets them better armed. Brother, can you spare a surveillance drone?

    • I doubt that Kerry is naive. I expect he accepts that Kurds are headed for independence. Goal is to patch together agreement to halt immediate slide into a bloodbath.

      Kerry can hardly be faulted for trying.

    • Malaki is not stupid, he has proven himself very crafty. Wish he had better ambitions for Iraq.

      Whats wrong with Alawi? He certainly talks a good game. Hard to imagine there are a lot of other Shiite politicians able to attract Sunni votes.

  • Hardliners in Israel & Iran Resist US Pivot to Iran over ISIS
    • "making use of allies like Saudi Arabia to support the rebels may very well put fundamentalists in power."

      You are still insisting that the U.S. directs Saudi policy.

      No, the U.S. has tried to keep Qatar and Saudi Arabia and there citizens from supporting fundamentalists in Syria, but to little avail.

      Obama has done very little of anything in Syria. If he had done more to support the Free Syrian Army, who are fighting ISIS near Aleppo, outcome might be different.

      I can't prove that arming moderate Sunni would have worked. But for sure your implication that U.S. winked at the arming of fundamentalists is incorrect.

    • I'm not convinced that insisting that Iraq continue as a unitary state does anything to counter ISIS.

      Let Iran have their Maliki-led client state. The Sunni will ultimately deal with ISIS in their territory.

      I'm under no illusion that the breakup of Iraq will be peaceful. But we're already there with the bloodshed, and the end state will come sooner and be more stable.

    • "The US has been actively trying to overthrow the Syrian regime by allowing Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to support Sunni radicals."

      The U.S. is not some omnipotent god that can control actors in the middle east. The U.S. government can barely reign-in the excesses of Texas, do you think we can control Saudi Arabia's policy?

      The U.S. arguably aided ISIS by inaction in Syria, but the notion that the U.S. actively preferred fundamentalists to Assad is unsupportable.

  • Egypt's Waco
    • Any post that starts off with "It’s quite simple" is unhelpful. There is no democratic champion in the three-legged stool that is Egyptian politics.

    • I disagree with you, John McCutchen, that there is a clear choice. I can respect an opinion on either side of this issue.

      Max Fisher of Wash Post has done an excellent job of laying out the tradeoffs:
      link to washingtonpost.com

  • Egypt's Transition Has Failed: New Age of Military Dictatorship in Wake of Massacre
    • Larry, I think you are being too critical. There is some truth in what Sherman is saying. Certainly the reformers get a D- for their political organizing. No leadership with demonstrated backing has emerged to demand participation. Who's to blame for their pathetic showing in parliamentary elections?

      The blame can be spread around broadly.

    • Good heavens, what a strange and illogical rant.

      "Western liberals" took no discernible position on Egypt, certainly not what you are suggesting.

      And then you claim "the west could have easily set up new elections with Egyptian Military oversight while a neutered Morsi was still in power." You must be joking.

      I take it you think the U.S. should have cut-off military to Egypt. I disagree, but that's a debatable point. It's hard to see how it would have made any difference. I don't know how you decided that liberals were against cutting off aid.

    • The heavy handed behavior of Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. is in no way comparable to that seen by the Muslim Brotherhood or the Egyptian Military.

      The 20 million people in the streets protesting Morsi would be equivalent to 90 million in the United States. If 90 million Americans were in the street, our government would fall too.

      We have checks and balances in our mature system that people come to trust. Obviously neither the Morsi supporters nor detractors are willing to wait until the next election.

    • spiral007, the motives of the MB are self-evident: they are acting and speaking to depose the current government and restore Morsi to power. No speculation or insight required.

      "Please provide some objective reference to how Morsi governed in an undemocratic manner ... the only reason he took supreme power for a short period of time was to avert the Mubarak appointed supreme court ... sure he packed the upper house with pro Morsi supporters, but that was not illegal and democracy does have winners and losers."

      There is no example of MB heavy-handed behavior that cannot be explained-away. Worst of all, the MB rushed-through a constitution that did not have broad support. I've heard the rationalizations.

      The violent impasse we are at is the inevitable result of BOTH sides taking absolutist positions. The MB does not have broad support, they are in no position to demand that the government step-down. You say the liberals should have waited for elections. Well, the same can be said about the MB today - elections are scheduled for 6 months from now.

    • Prof. Cole's analysis was balanced and clearly documented.

      spiral00, you say you are not a supporter of religion in politics, I believe you, but you hold the Muslim Brotherhood blameless, an unsupportable, emotional position.

      The Muslim Brotherhood has pursued a doomed strategy since the coup. Like you, they refuse to recognize that they governed in an undemocratic, exclusive manner; they refuse to accept the reality that they were left isolated. The MB governance was fundamentally misdirected, it wasn't just a matter of "some mistakes were made." To see this, you just have to acknowledge the breath and and size of protests demanding that Morsi leave office.

      The MB are now out in the streets trying to effect another revolution by paralyzing governance & the economy. One can understand their feelings, but circumstances are far different from the revolution that brought down Mubarak. The MB do not have the sympathies of Egyptians outside their hardcore supporters. They are on a death mission, and now the deaths have come.

      I don't excuse the military one bit, but the MB had political options smarter than provoking a civil war.

  • Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood Defiant as Government Mulls Dispersing Crowds in Cairo, Giza
    • Generals certainly can run Egypt. Now that the Muslim Brotherhood has been established at the bête noire, the general public might even let them get away with it.

      I'm so depressed. The military is awful. The Muslim Brotherhood is unable to see their failings. The liberals are unwilling to do the hard work of organizing.

      I think the military government believes they have to crush the protests from the MB in order to have any chance of resuscitating the economy. Maybe that is a correct analysis; but even if not it will become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

      It's gonna be ugly for a couple years, even if there are some sort-of elections. The military will not let go of power any time soon.

    • I think the Egyptian military's dependence on U.S. arms is often over-stated. Certainly they might have short-term problems with spare parts, but militarily, even an army at 50% strength has overwhelming force.

      Iran was a U.S. client, and they managed to transitioning to arms from China and then Russia. And they repelled Sadaam Hussein along the way.
      link to cfr.org

  • Egyptian Backlash against Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi's Call for foreign Intervention in Egypt
    • Extremists have not taken over Libya. I'm optimistic they will yet find a way to improve security for the citizens.

  • Egyptian authorities release CCTV Footage of Muslim Brotherhood Attack on 6 October Bridge
    • Tahar, I will agree with you that the MB are victims of repression. You still need to face reality and find the best possible response to the situation.

    • The Native Americans were purely victims, decimated, defeated, and out of options. If you feel that the MB has fallen to a comparably pathetic state, then you are right that there is nothing left to discuss.

      For others who see the situation more complexly, lets talk. Hundreds of MB people were killed this weekend. The potential for hundreds of thousands to die is very much in the balance. Choices are going to matter.

      I've been asking MB supporters (via my TV set) the same question for several weeks: what is your plan? It is not an unreasonable question, but I hear few hints, but the implicit answer seems to be, "protest until Mursi is rightfully restored to office."

      The Assad protesters pursued such an absolutist goal two years ago. It did not go well, but at least they had a more plausible plan. They had a great deal of international support, relatively broad popular support, and no better alternatives to effect change.

      Certainly the MB has been badly treated. But non-MB eyes their moral case is murky. The bullied other voices while in power. The likelihood that they will be able to participate meaningfully in politics is there - especially compared to the desperate prospects of the anti-Assad protesters.

      The MB has options. If you desire a civil war, please explain how you think that is going to play out. If you want to protest peacefully and boycott elections, where is that likely to lead? Or, what are the prospects for participate in coming elections and begin to regain meaningful power and influence?

    • The Muslim Brotherhood seeks to overthrow the government of Egypt and restore Morsi to power. Such a goal is likely to lead to more violence, and the death of many of their supporters.

      The MB has little support internationally, and evidently only modest support within Egypt. I expect the military government will succeed in suppressing any insurrection.

      I'd love to hear some strategic thinking from MB supporters, something beyond indignation. What are their goals, and what actions will achieve those goals?

  • Egypt: Military announces 'War on Terror,' Calls for Massive Demos Against Muslim Brotherhood
    • "Al-Sissi doesn’t seek reconciliation or even a peaceful exit to this crisis."
      What do you want Al-Sissi to do? What specifically would a peaceful exit to the crisis look like?

      I agree with much of what you say, Al-Sissi's speech seemed to raise temperatures unnecessarily.

      I disagree with you that Egypt is in crisis; my prescription for Al-Sissi is to largely ignore the protests and proceed with the announced plans for a new constitution and election. Respond with minimal force.

      I'll be very interested in hearing what steps you prefer him to take.

  • New Egyptian gov't on being sworn in, Complains of Turkish Interference in Egyptian Affairs
    • Good point.

      Whenever I hear any nation complaining about "interfering in their internal affairs" it's almost always a sign of a vulnerable government. They are either teetering, or holding onto power through brutality.

      One can't expect Turkey to calmly accept the overthrow of a close political ally through a military coup. I hope Egypt will put on their big boy pants and make an effort to mend fences with Turkey.

    • "Among the first orders of business of the new government was to lodge a complaint with the Turkish government for interfering in the internal affairs of a sovereign country."

      I would think this would be about 50th or 60th on their to-do list.

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